Wrap: Championship caliber

Updated: March 8, 2004, 8:47 PM ET
ESPN.com

ESPN.com takes a look at what went down in the racing world this past weekend.

Kevin Harvick
AP PhotoHey, we all dig Reese's, but that color is killing us, Kevin!

Biggest surprise: At some point, Kasey Kahne's achievements will move down to our next category. But for now, back-to-back runner-up finishes, a pole position and a second-place in Saturday's Busch race at Vegas? Wow. (Hey, Kahne's team owner Ray Evernham told ESPN's Mike Massaro that even he is surprised at how good Kahne has been).

Biggest non-surprise: OK, so Michael Schumacher barely squeaked out the F1 title last year while teammate Rubens Barrichello was nowhere near second place overall. And with new rules being implemented this year to further level the playing field, everyone expected Ferrari to be in a fierce battle with two or three other teams atop the standings. Instead, Schumi and Barrichello absolutely dominate Down Under with a car being described by some as Ferrari's best ever. Sure, it's only one race -- and Fernando Alonso made a statement in his Renault. But still ...

And Matt Kenseth. He won at Rockingham, he won last year at Vegas, he led all Cup drivers with five wins in 2002, he's the defending Cup champion. So why would it possibly be surprising that he won at Vegas on Sunday? Oh, yeah -- all that nonsense about his one-win title campaign being a farce. Kenseth is one of NASCAR's best. And though he shouldn't have to prove it beyond winning the '03 title, he continues to do just that. You want one driver to win a race on any given day? Sure, maybe the likes of Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon still should be first mentioned. But Kenseth is now on any short list -- not to mention being the only member of that other list ... current Cup champions.

Biggest disappointment: Kevin Harvick running out of fuel late in Sunday's UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400, costing him a second-place finish. (But Harvick did have plenty of gas on Saturday when he won the Vegas Busch race.) Also, Michael Waltrip, whose horrible luck continued on Sunday.

And Kimi Raikkonen and Mark Webber in Australia. Raikkonen finished a close second to Schumacher in last year's championship race, but a mechanical DNF certainly isn't the way F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone's title favorite wanted to start the year -- especially considering Schumacher won on Sunday. Webber, meanwhile, couldn't thrill the hometown fans after his Jaguar broke down after 29 laps.

Finally, Scott Wimmer. Bill Davis Racing wasn't exactly the strongest team in Cup racing last year, which made the rookie Wimmer's first two race results (third at Daytona, 15th at Rockingham) all the more impressive. But a blown engine did him in on Sunday.

Gutsy move: Alonso going way wide in Turn 1 at Australia and completing the pass on Juan Pablo Montoya shortly thereafter. Alonso finished a solid third.

Also, we mentioned a few weeks back Kyle Petty's 21st-place finish at Daytona as a solid effort. One of our users very aptly pointed out how sad it is that a mediocre finish can be seen as being a good day for Petty. Well, Sunday's 12th at Vegas was far better than mediocre. There's plenty of racing left, but maybe an overall top-20 finish isn't totally out of the question for Petty.

Boneheaded move: Montoya. He himself admits he blew it at the start of the Australian Grand Prix, allowing Alonso to get a good run on him and then driving his car into the grass shortly thereafter. Still, Montoya managed a fifth-place finish. Not what we wanted -- especially considering he started third -- but certainly not bad for a "bad" day.

Redemption: Mark Martin. He's rebounded from a disappointing Daytona with finishes of 12th and fifth in the last two races.

Random stat: 1. That's the number of round wins John Force has after two events this year. Certainly not the start he was looking for in his quest to reclaim the Funny Car championship. Conversely, defending category champ Tony Pedregon, who left John Force Racing to run his own team after winning the '03 title, lost in the first round at Pomona but rebounded to make a run to the finals at Phoenix before losing to Del Worsham.

Random thought: How can a team as strong as Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 8 crew be as far off as they were on Sunday?

General amazement: Ferrari. Roush.

Also, Brandon Bernstein scoring his first event win in his comeback from injury.

Quote: "I was shocked how quick they (Ferrari) were here. I didn't expect it really." -- Jenson Button on Ferrari's performance in Australia.

Photo: Check out the photo of the week. Fosters. Australian for crikeys! (At least Kimi's day started well.)

Tell us what you think: Share your thoughts with us about the weekend's action.

 
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